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Dacanay, Rey Philip C.


EL 197
Prof. Richard Karl Deang
March 14, 2014

The Ballad of Reading Gaol


By Oscar Wilde
I walked, with other souls in pain,
He did not wear his scarlet coat,

Within another ring,

For blood and wine are red,

And was wondering if the man had done

And blood and wine were on his hands

A great or little thing,

When they found him with the dead,

When a voice behind me whispered low,

The poor dead woman whom he loved,

That fellows got to swing.

And murdered in her bed.


Dear Christ! the very prison walls
He walked amongst the Trial Men

Suddenly seemed to reel,

In a suit of shabby grey;

And the sky above my head became

A cricket cap was on his head,

Like a casque of scorching steel;

And his step seemed light and gay;

And, though I was a soul in pain,

But I never saw a man who looked

My pain I could not feel.

So wistfully at the day.


I only knew what hunted thought
I never saw a man who looked

Quickened his step, and why

With such a wistful eye

He looked upon the garish day

Upon that little tent of blue

With such a wistful eye;

Which prisoners call the sky,

The man had killed the thing he loved,

And at every drifting cloud that went

And so he had to die.

With sails of silver by.


Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard,

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Some do it with a bitter look,

Some kill their love when they are young,

Some with a flattering word,

And some when they are old;

The coward does it with a kiss,

Some strangle with the hands of Lust,

The brave man with a sword!

Some with the hands of Gold:


The kindest use a knife, because
The dead so soon grow cold.

From my previous close-reading of an excerpt of this ballad by Oscar Wilde, I have used as my
literary tool the formalist approach in reading this text to show the improbability of homosexual love. In
this reading, I shall be using Queer theory to analyze it and to problematize that thing that he loves but
that which he killed and so as a consequence, he had to die.

By definition, Queer theory encompasses the experiences gay, lesbian, bisexual, and any other
forms of sexuality that deviates from the generally accepted norm of sexuality in a given society in
asserting their positions as legitimate forms of desires (Barker, 169). It is against the strictly set of rules
that limits the identity of a person to his object of desire but rather, it acknowledges the fluidity of
sexuality, its permeability from one time to another (Sedgwick 8). I have chosen to use Queer theory
rather than gay criticism as a tool for analysing this excerpt of the ballad of Oscar Wilde because of this
criticisms biggest flaw- that it sets a limit to the sexuality of a person by his or her object choice of
desire. Rather, I want to prove in this paper that sexuality is plural and highly permeable.

But before going through our analysis of the ballad, it is important that we take into strict
consideration the context of its inception, during the 19th century in England. In the opening chapter of
Michel Foucaults History of Sexuality, he claimed that during the Victorian era, discourses on sexuality
has been reserved in the private vicinity of the house and had it confided on the discourses of
reproduction ( 1:3). Saying this, we can see how the dominant discourse paved the way for compulsory

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heterosexuality to prevail in dictating that its primary goal is for reproduction. In Britain, homosexuality
is held in horror by Victorians and it is generally considered a grave crime worthy of the scaffold (Adut
214).

By looking at the ballad, the central element that we see is the killing that thing he loves and so
in return, he must die. We can problematize here the usage of the word thing as I have already
mentioned in my previous reading of this poem. The usage of the word thing to symbolize that which
the man loves is very open to numerous interpretations. Previously, I have insisted that it is his
homosexual desire that he must annihilate because it is that very thing that is forbidden. To add to it, the
speaker talks about a new inmate who murders the woman that he loved and he likened it to other
inmates who have to learn to kill this thing that they love even from its very first budding of existence.

If we take into consideration the dominant discourse of the time, the only acceptable sexuality is
that of heterosexuality and homosexuality is punishable by law. Saying this, as the law puts corporal
punishment to those whose sexual desires do not conform to the generally accepted sexuality, then they
must be stopped on pain of death. These restrictions repress the possibility for a person to express and to
experience the joy of all kinds of sexual desire, be it of homosexual nature, consanguineous
relationships but of course with deep debates on incest and desire for minors, eroticism to animals and a
lot more ways of experiencing their sexual desires in more ways than another. These restrictions also
inhibit the actualization of the characters in the ballad of the plurality of their identities for the dominant
discourse during their time punishes those who deviate from the generally accepted norm. And so, the
society acts like a judge and imprisons those whose acts are considered a crime (Foucault 106).

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By returning back to my formalist analysis of the poem, it gives an aura of greyness, heaviness,
and sadness. A feeling of intense anguish reigns in each word and stanza. It mirrors the way the
characters, basically the speaker of his feeling when his desires are restricted from him, when he walk[s]
with other souls in pain that some souls learn to kill their love with a bitter look, some with a flattering
word. It shows us that the desires constitute the reason for being of the speaker, which not being able to
express them and indulge in them is tantamount to incarcerating himself to a prison. Basically, Queer
theory aims at the freedom of expression of an individuals desires, to free himself from being tied-up
from all the restrictions found in the discourses in his time and place.

Bibliography:

Adut, Ari. A Theory of Scandal: Victorians, Homosexuality, and the Fall of Oscar Wilde. American
Journal of Sociology. 111.1(2005):213-248. Web. JSTOR. March 12, 2014. PDF.

Barker, Chris. The Sage Dictionary of Cultural Studies. London : Sage Publications LTD., 2004.
Fichier PDF.

Foucault, Michel. Histoire de la sexualit. Volume 1. Paris: Gallimard, 1976. PDF.

Lordre du discours. Paris: Gallimard. 1971. PDF.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. New York : Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991.Print.

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